Authors share the emotions and impact when their books are banned

Authors Jerry Craft, Grace Lin and others discuss the personal and professional impact of having parents calling to remove their books from schools and libraries.

Shock. Sadness. Anger. To resolve. When an author’s book is questioned, it can go through many emotions.

The challenges of the book are nothing new, of course. But a nationally coordinated effort by organizations putting together talking points to target diversity books and inclusion lists in classrooms and libraries has meant a particularly difficult time for publishing for children. With an “astronomical” increase in challenges this year compared to last year – according to Kristin Pekoll of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom – and more media attention to the writers, they are finding themselves and their families. stories in the midst of a culture war.

In October, a Texas school district withdrew the Newbery award from Jerry Craft New kid, with his suite, Class law, off the shelves and canceled her scheduled author visit.

“I was shocked,” says Craft. “Since New kid and Class law were released, I only received love, both critically and in terms of fan feedback. My books are available in a dozen languages, and my characters are on T-shirts, puzzles, and sketchbooks.and I believe that all of this helps children to feel seen. I always thought my books were fun, with strong family values ​​and a lot of humor. It was all unexpected to me.

Grace Lin knows the feeling. When she learned that her book A big moon cake for the little star was on a long list of “objectionable material” withdrawn by the Central York (PA) School District School Board, its first reaction was a shock.

“Of all my books, A big moon cake for the little star was not the one I feared this would happen. If you know the book, you know it is very uncontroversial. A big moon cake for the little star simply tells a sweet story about a mother, a daughter and the phases of the moon. The only political statement he makes is that an Asian child can be a main character in a book. “

Some authors claim that attempts to ban their books are a “badge of honor”, and some, like The hate you give author Angie Thomas, note the surge in book sales thanks to attention and attempts to ban their titles.

But there is a personal impact to these efforts which have been more intense in recent months, with a focus on headlines by and on Black, Brown, AAPI and LGBTQ + communities. The objections are not to magic or bad words, but to the authors’ own stories and the stories of their families and cultures. It’s personal.

As she passed through the shock, Lin came to a shattering realization.

“I slowly realized that it was really because a colored child was a main character that they were trying to ban him,” says Lin. “And it made me heartbroken and angry. It is astounding to believe that the existence of a BIPOC hero in a book is a reason for prohibition. I know rhetoric has tried to disguise this truth with dog whistles from [Critical Race Theory] and racism in reverse, but the fact remains that A big moon cake for the little star was banned simply because Little Star was not white. That’s an infuriating response, given the efforts of the Asian American population to tackle anti-Asian hatred last year. We continue to work so hard to show that we are not perpetual strangers; we’re part of contemporary and mainstream society, and it was a very cold splash of water reminding us that there are many who don’t want to believe this. I know this is all even worse for Black, Brown and LQBTQ groups.

Author and actor Chris Colfer received the 2021 National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) Free Speech Defender’s Award. In his speech at the virtual ceremony, he recalled those who told him years ago when he started to write The land of stories: the spell of wishes that the world was not ready for an openly gay man to write books, that parents were not ready for their children to read them.

But, he said, the publication of his book showed readers were ready. His first book and each of the 17 that followed were not only accepted, but quickly became favorites and bestsellers despite the push from those he had previously been warned against.

“Yes, there have been both successful and unsuccessful attempts to keep my books out of certain areas because of who and what I am,” Colfer said. “Yes, there have been slurs and political propaganda in my books because of the diversity and inclusion that I write about. “

The support of its readers, the NCAC and others has made it possible to keep Colfer’s books in libraries, classrooms and bookstores, “and [put] in the hands of the kids who need it most, ”says Colfer.

“[It’s] because of people and organizations like [NCAC] that people like me become writers in the first place, and that kids like me don’t have to live their lives feeling alone.

Graphic novelist Jarrett J. Krosoczka has written about children who can also be lonely. And after his book, Hey Kiddo, was arraigned by parents in Iowa in November for “excessive vulgarity,” he wrote a letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register (IA). In the letter, he spoke about the unpredictability, loneliness and mental health impact of growing up with an addicted parent. In his letter, he cited recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on drug overdoses in Iowa.

“I wrote Hey kid both for young adults living in a family dependency to feel less alone and for their classmates with more traditionally idyllic realities to develop their empathy, ”Krosoczka wrote.

“There is an often-used expression: ‘Books save lives’. It may sound trite, but it is absolutely true. One of the ways to prevent teen suicide, according to the CDC, is to provide access to socio-emotional learning and create a sense of connection. I feel incredibly lucky to have put Hey kid around the world and that the book has had a positive impact on readers. They contact me directly to thank me for representing this experience and for bringing attention to what it is like to be the child of an addicted parent.

Craft also thought about children like him as he dealt with the situation surrounding his books in Texas.

“Over the past few years, I have received emails from teachers, parents and children all over the world telling me that they are related to the characters in New kidSays Craft. “It’s a classic fish out of water story that most people can relate to. At some point, everyone is the “New Kid”. Even as an adult on your first day at a new job or moving to a new neighborhood… You always come back to that first day of school feeling.

He also thought of all the kids he’d been told about who hated reading before, only to reread his books over and over again.

In Craft’s case, the wave of support drowned out the small group of parents who opposed the book.

“It was like a scene from It’s a wonderful lifeSays Craft, who ended up having a rescheduled virtual tour with schools in the district.

“It was fantastic. I had so much good feedback from parents whose kids couldn’t stop talking about the visit, rushed home to write their own stories, or spent the rest of the day drawing pictures I felt a little sad that the children whose parents chose to “opt out” of the visit missed the visit.

Meanwhile, Lin admits to being disheartened by the current situation.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and was starting to believe that we are finally moving towards a more equitable editorial landscape,” she says. “It was all kind of a reminder that disinterest and firing aren’t the only things we’re fighting; we must fight against active and obvious discrimination.

Despite this, Lin finds cause for hope in seeing this moment as an opportunity to change the way teachers, librarians, and the publishing industry classify and use books. A big moon cake for the little star was targeted as part of a list of “diversity and inclusion” books, and Lin thinks it might be a good time to stop making that list and “really bring” diverse books into the curriculum.

“If teachers, educators, publishers and writers are truly passionate about diverse literature, we’re going to have to find a way to inundate our children with it every day, not just when we want to expose students to a bit of diversity. , “she says.” Perhaps this is the time when we look at our various books and find that A big moon cake for the little star can be used in folk tale unit, moon / science unit, math / fractions unit. “

In the meantime, she, Colfer, Craft, Krosoczka and their peers are committed to continuing to write their stories for readers who need mirrors, as well as those who need windows.

“It won’t change what I do,” says Craft. “I am working on the third New kid book, and won’t change a thing, because I have seen the positive impact my books have had on children as well as adults.

He recently received an email from a teacher in Brazil telling him what to read and chat New kid had a huge impact on his students. One child said that the experience would make him a better person because he learned to look at the world from someone else’s point of view.

“I have had the most sincere conversations with teachers and librarians who have examined how they have treated children of color in the past and told me the books have opened their eyes,” says Craft.

Krosoczka wrote: “I, along with my colleagues, write for the teenagers that we once were. And we stand up for the right of students to read because we know these books would have made our life so much easier growing up. “

About Karren Campbell

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